As Axes Fall, Local Economy Rises: Cutting Costs While Cutting Trees

Taking care of urban forests may include the removal of diseased and damaged trees. Sometimes, the axe must fall, and professionals must be called in to remove trees due to storms, disease, or invasive insects. The removal costs can add up quickly — in some cases, to the tune of several millions of dollars. Through careful planning however, researchers, marketing teams, and industry professionals can find more affordable solutions — ones beneficial to the forests, the bottom line, and the local economy.

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Trees harvested from Kenosha County, in southwest Wisconsin, will benefit several communities around the area.

Kenosha County, Wisconsin is ground zero for a large-scale urban wood utilization project where a mechanized cut-to-length (CTL) tree harvester is removing 5,400 trees that have succumbed to Emerald Ash Borer. These trees are located across the community, including in county parks and golf courses — but despite the scale of this operation, the cost to remove them is relatively low — just $13 a tree.

For the removal operation, Kenosha County enlisted the help of Don Peterson, Executive Director of Sustainable Resources Institute, and an important Forest Service program delivery partner. To keep costs down, Peterson sought out local businesses wherever possible — the winning bid for the harvesting, for example, went to a logger from nearby Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Use of the CTL harvester provides usable wood for a variety of local industries, too, and the actual tree removal is not the only part of the project to benefit local business. Several entities plan to reuse the removed wood locally. Recovered products (pulpwood, sawbolts and hardwood sawlogs) all went to local Wisconsin forest products companies. By ensuring the diseased trees have a future before the first cut is made, the forest to market supply chain is kept intact.

The Forest Service hopes to apply what they learned in Kenosha County to tree harvesting operations across the United States.

In addition, Kenosha County hosted a workshop for city arborists and others interested in urban wood utilization. The day-long event was partially funded by the US Forest Service’s Wood Education Resource Center (WERC) and the Forest Products Laboratory’s Forest Product Marketing Unit (FPMU). Through this workshop, the public was able to learn about the operation, and see first-hand the methods employed to manage our urban forests.

The Forest Service hopes learn a thing or two from the Kenosha operation too. FPMU believes that the project demonstrates the effectiveness of “forest to market supply chain” thinking. Similar efforts could efficiently remove and utilize woody biomass from land restoration and fuel reduction projects in our clogged forests — particularly in the western United States, where fire danger continues to climb.

As researchers continue to find new uses for low-value wood through emerging technologies like nanocellulose, the demand for such material will only increase. Keeping costs low will be important for making urban wood utilization operations attractive. The tree removal project in Kenosha County shows that by considering the supply chain, utilizing local businesses, and educating the public, tree removal can benefit the local communities as we cut costs and trees alike.